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Siebel to tackle apps integration

Siebel Systems plans to release a set of new tools that will make it easier to exchange data among its customer relationship management applications and other business products.

Confronting a common complaint of many consumers of packaged business applications, Siebel Systems said Monday that it plans to release a set of new tools that will make it easier to exchange data among its customer relationship management applications and other business applications.

The new products, available this summer, contain an electronic reference guide that instructs customers on standard ways of configuring its software to support common business functions such as acquiring new customers and billing customers after a sale.

The so-called business process library contains instructions for 200 of these scenarios. The tools also provide instructions on setting up business processes that require Siebel applications to talk to other applications such as accounting or inventory systems. To book a sale and bill a customer, for instance, a company may have to send a message to an SAP invoicing application. The SAP system may identify the customer with a different set of data than the Siebel system uses, requiring a translation of some sort.

Siebel, the largest of the CRM software companies, said many of its customers are trying to integrate its applications with thousands of other packaged and legacy applications they have already installed and they're having a rough time of it. General Motors, for instance, is working to integrate Siebel applications with more than 5,000 other software systems. Marriott is working on Siebel integration to 73 different applications.

"This is really a big problem for the CIO of an enterprise," said David Schmaier, executive vice president of products at Siebel.

Analysts say Siebel has good reason to find new ways to make its software more easily converse with other business applications.

"Siebel has recognized that the biggest impediment to customers' ability to consume more applications is the cost and difficulty of integrating new purchases with systems they already own," states a research note issued Monday by Credit Suisse First Boston.

Recent reports from analyst firms such as Gartner and Merrill Lynch indicate that many CRM projects fail to deliver anticipated savings and business advantages. The complexity of making a CRM system talk to other applications within a company is a common pitfall, they say.

Hoping to further ease the integration hassle, Siebel has enlisted the help of several application integration software companies, including IBM, SeeBeyond, Tibco, Vitria Technology and WebMethods. Each of these companies has agreed to support a new set of specifications based on the Extensible Markup Language called Web Services Flow Language, or WSFL.

It recommends that customers use one of these company's application integration products in conjunction with its integration tools to enable the actual exchange of data among applications. Siebel is adopting WSFL, which IBM is developing, as a standard way of exchanging data with other applications.

SAP, a competitor to Siebel, is also developing a set of integration tools to make its vast array of business applications, from CRM to inventory management, able to chat more easily with applications not made by SAP. One of them is a Web application server built using the Java programming language, which SAP plans to release in June.